As usual, the wenches have an eclectic and exciting selection of reading favorites from this past month. I think we've covered all the genres from wedding fantasies to biographies, with lots of romance in between!
Aunt Dimity's Death, Nancy Atherton
This book is labeled a mystery, but it’s not a traditional one, which is probably why I adore it. There is no suspense other than determining the reason the mysterious Aunt Dimity was left alone and unhappy all her life. It’s more a fairy tale ghost story, since Aunt Dimity haunts the protagonists’ life in more ways than one, always in a cheerful, amiable manner. The heroine is the next best thing to the Poor Little Match Girl. She gets to visit what is, to all intents and purposes, an enchanted castle in a modern metropolis, meets a prince who isn’t really handsome but a lawyer, and is given a list of odd tasks she must accomplish to earn a princely sum. It’s all low key, pleasant, and charming, and we all get to live the fairy tale with her. In this day and age, I’m good with that.
I’ve read two great books I’d like to recommend this month. The first is The Stranger by Kate Riordan. It’s set in Cornwall in the 1940s and tells the story of three very different young women sent to work as Land Girls on a big estate. Their stories interweave with those of the family and the local villagers and old secrets start to unravel. . . It’s a gripping book that reminded me of Agatha Christie in the way that the mysteries of the past were revealed and also of Daphne Du Maurier in the sense of menace and the stunning evocations of the Cornish landscape. If you enjoy the writing of Kate Morton and Susanna Kearsley, this could be a good one for you!
Also, because it’s impossible to escape Royal Wedding fever at the moment and because I’m partial to a royal romance, I picked up Marrying The Rebel Prince by Janet Gover. I loved the romance between the gorgeous Prince Nicolas Verbier d’Arennes and no-nonsense artist Lauren, who arrives to paint his portrait and in the process teaches him a very different way of looking at life. It’s cute and funny and poignant, and very romantic. So now I’ve finished it I need another royal fix and I’m picking up Not Your Cinderella by Kate Johnson, which looks like another winner!
Here's a non-fiction read: Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin is an American, a graduate of Yale Law School and a professor there.
In the lively introduction, Rubin explained how she came to be fascinated by Churchill only to be overwhelmed by the staggering number of books about him. She said there were about 650 bios, some of them multi-volume. He was a towering figure of the twentieth century and lived a very eventful life. (An understatement!) He was born 9 years after the end of the American Civil War (1874), and died the year Malcolm X was assassinated. I'm something of a Churchill buff myself, but 650 bios? No way!
Rubin cautiously started sampling them, made a lucky choice of her first (Churchill's own memoir My Early Life), and then read more. And more. And was baffled by the vastly contradictory views of him, and how much his biographers selected the facts of his life that fit their views of him as well as sometimes over-interpreting material.
She was also struck by how these writers could look at the same facts and reach completely different conclusions. Was he a military genius or a bungling amateur? A champion of liberty or a reactionary imperialist? And so on.
And what makes Churchill so fascinating is that all of these things were true. A very complicated and exhausting man. Which is why Gretchen Rubin decided to write her own biography in which she would present the many contradictory facts and observations, usually in the same chapter. Most of his biographers were male, British, and their lives overlapped his. As a woman and an American who was born after Churchill's death, she gives a fresh perspective that seems very balanced to me.
It's also great fun to read and gives a full-bodied portrait of an amazing, and amazingly complicated man. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about Winston Churchill without being buried under the weight of 650+ biographies!
On the fiction side, I really enjoyed Beth Anne Miller's New Adult Novel, Under a Storm-Swept Sky. The heroine, Amelia, is a non-athlete raised in flat Long Island, and in a private pledge to the universe, she has vowed to hike the Skye Trail on the very mountainous Scottish island of Skye–even if kills her, which it might! The challenge is even harder because of tormented guide Rory, who is haunted by his past. Miller creates a vivid sense of hiking in Skye, and the romance is intense and satisfying. Wonderful for all lovers of Scotland–but I'll let others do the actual hiking!
As usual I've read and enjoyed a mix of genres; fantasy, historical romance and contemporary. First up was Roadsouls, a fantasy by Betsy James . “Say yes to the Roadsouls, and you can’t unsay it.” The roadsouls are a kind of gypsy troupe, with magical elements. From the publisher's blurb: "Timid Duuni has spent her life as abused and guarded property. Blind, arrogant Raím is determined to be again what he once was: hunter, lover, young lord of the earth. Desperate to escape their lives, the two lift up their hands to the passing Roadsoul caravan—and nothing is as it was. Lost to their old lives, hating each other, they are swept out of their cruel old certainties into an unknown, unknowable, ever-changing world of journey and carnival, artists and wrestlers and thieves."
Next and also in the fantasy genre came Sebastien de Castell – Traitor's Blade (The Greatcoats, Book 1).
I'm halfway through this swashbuckling series, about the aftermath of a short period of good rule, and the once-heroic, now scorned "greatcoat" brotherhood, struggling to restore order in a kingdom rife with greed and corruption. A good read (though I do confess I skip a lot of the fight descriptions.)
And then onto romance — I read Eloisa James's Wilde in Love and enjoyed it very much. I also had the happy discovery of finding Emily Larkin's Ruining Miss Wrotham lurking unread in my kindle, and immediately devoured it (the story, not my kindle.) Ruining Miss Wrotham is part of the delightful "Baleful Godmother" series. Don't let the element of magic put you off here — Emily writes about the Regency era with a deft touch, good research, and lively characterization. I interviewed Emily about the first book in the series here.
And since Nicola introduced the topic of Royal Weddings, I'm about to begin my umpteenth reread of my very favorite royal wedding story, To Marry A Prince, by Sophie Weston.
Why Kill the Innocent, C. S, Harris’s newest installment in her Sebastian St. Cyr series, is another meticulously plotted unraveling of a puzzling murder. This one involves the Prince Regent and the pressures he’s putting on Princess Charlotte to make a political marriage. As the two protagonists, Sebastian and his wife Hero, begin to untangle the twisted threads of self-interest and which factions within the highest circles of Society factions are trying to outwit the others, they find a serpent’s nest of deceit and selfishness. It’s a fascinating—and chilling—look at how the young princess was used as a pawn, even by those closest to her. As usual, Harris creates wonderful ambiance and characters and an intriguing plot that keeps you reading into the wee hours.
In The Woman in the Water, Charles Finch does a prequel to his popular Charles Lennox series, and show us Charles as a young man, freshly down from Oxford and going against the grain of family and friends by wanting to be a detective. I love Finch’s writing—it’s gentle and yet very perceptive. I sort-of think of him as a male Jane Austen as he describes a young man struggling to gain confidence and gravitas as he deals with his social world— and also solve a puzzling double murder. If you don’t yet know the series, I highly recommend it.